The Vikings got another chance to show the rest of the NFL that they are serious Super Bowl contenders — not just a pretty good team that has an uncanny knack for kicking inferior opponents when they are down — when they played host to the two-time reigning NFC champions on Sunday.
Content to take the air out of the football on offense and out of opposing quarterbacks on defense while eking out narrow victories, they won eight of their first 11 games to claim first place in the NFC North.
But while stacking up all those wins, they had yet to beat anyone noteworthy, certainly nobody as talented and accomplished as the Seattle Seahawks.
The Vikings were confident, too confident in the eyes of coach Mike Zimmer, that they would make a statement in beating the Seahawks. Instead, they again looked like pretenders in a showcase game, letting the visitors score the game’s first 35 points in a 38-7 loss Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium.
"We just got embarrassed today,” guard Brandon Fusco said.
How embarrassing was it?
This was their poorest overall performance of the season, which is saying something considering they were dominated in the season opener by a San Francisco team that is now 4-8, and that they got smoked by the visiting Green Bay Packers two weeks ago.
The Vikings offense? It didn’t produce a single point and mustered just 125 yards of offense, the lowest total in nine years.
Zimmer’s proud defense? That got shredded by Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who threw three touchdown passes and scrambled for another.
Special teams? That group allowed a 47-yard return on the opening kickoff.
“They were just a better team,” said running back Adrian Peterson, who was held to a season-low 18 rushing yards— third lowest of his career — on his eight carries. “They were more aggressive, played more physical and they outcoached us as well.”
The Seahawks started piling up touchdowns in the first quarter when running back Thomas Rawls broke three tackles on his way to a 5-yard rushing touchdown. Wilson made it 14-0 late in the second quarter when, after a questionable unnecessary roughing penalty called on defensive end Brian Robison, he capped off a 98-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown run.
Just over a minute before halftime, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater chucked an inaccurate pass over the head of wide receiver Stefon Diggs right into the arms of Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, who returned the interception into Vikings territory. On the next play, Wilson hit wide receiver Doug Baldwin in the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown strike and the rout was on.
The Vikings sleepwalked through the second half. Wilson threw a touchdown pass to running back Fred Jackson. Then, long after their hopes for a signature win had been trampled, they let Wilson sprint for a 53-yard touchdown. It was nullified by a Seahawks penalty. No biggie. On the next play, Wilson threw another touchdown, this one over the secondary for 53 yards, to Baldwin.
“We didn’t have no fight in this game,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said.
Their only score came on a 101-yard kickoff return touchdown from wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who flamboyantly strutted into the end zone with the ball raised high in the air when the Vikings were trailing 35-0.
Wilson threw for 274 yards, Rawls became the third running back in the past three weeks to rush for 100 yards against the Vikings and the Seahawks totaled 433 yards of offense, the most that Zimmer’s defense, which was without four starters for the majority of Sunday’s game, had allowed all season.
But the play of the punch-less Vikings offense was even more alarming. The Vikings have relied on the Peterson, the NFL’s leading rusher entering Week 13, to wear down defenses in most of their wins. But against the Seahawks, they got exposed as an offense that is not at all equipped to play from behind. Bridgewater was hesitant, took four sacks and averaged just 4.2 yards per pass attempt, finishing with a season-low 118 passing yards.
“We’re a run-first team. We have [number] 28 in the backfield, the best player in the NFL. It’s hard when you’re down so much to pound the rock and do what we do best,” Fusco said. “When we’re one-dimensional like that, it’s hard for the coordinator to make us go as an offense.”
After the game, their second straight blowout loss at home, Zimmer said the Vikings aren’t “quite as good as we think we are” and tersely acknowledged that he saw signs of overconfidence from his team this past week after beating the Atlanta Falcons, who have now dropped five straight games.
Sunday’s dud was yet another reminder, though, that the Vikings, even at 8-4 and in a first-place tie with the Packers in the NFC North, need to start beating the big boys in the league if they want to join their ranks.
“Some guys think we arrived and we [have] not,” Munnerlyn said.